It’s early to be making predictions about what movies might be nominated for Oscars next year, but I’d be very surprised if Wadjda did not appear in the Best Foreign Film category. The story, of a 10-year-old girl who is determined to own a bicycle and race against a neighborhood boy despite both activities being frowned upon within her society, is at once charming, educational and chilling.
The charm comes in the form of Waad Mohammed who plays Wadjda with just the right amount of spunkiness and disregard for tradition, creating a believable youngster who has not yet come to terms with the differences in freedom allowed to males and females. Even as you smile at her appropriately childish antics as she tries to get her own way, there is a sense of tension from the knowledge that what might be acceptable in the western world does not hold true in Saudi Arabia and those actions could potentially be dangerous.
The film does not preach, but cleverly uses the seemingly simple story-line to provide an rarely seen insight into daily life in Saudi and highlight the limitations placed on women, some of which are common knowledge, others, especially those within the school setting, which certainly gave me cause for thought.
At the moment there is a great deal of talk world-wide about the need to educate girls as a first step towards improving not only their own lives but also their communities in general. As I left the theatre, however, I couldn’t help thinking that here was an example of a country which does offer education to its girls, but in a manner which is more likely to reinforce the status quo of how girls should behave rather than promote a change in attitude overall.
Apparently the movie, which was filmed in Saudi and is the first feature-length film to be directed by a female Saudi director, Haifaa al-Mansour, will not actually be released in Saudi Arabia as there are no movie theatres there. (It is hoped that eventually it will be available on DVD or shown on television.)
The movie is in Arabic with sub-titles, but don’t let that put you off – it is well worth seeing!